Dear Jeremy Hunt
You have just launched a costly campaign to persuade Britons to holiday at home this year. As Culture Secretary, your message is: "There's so much happening in Britain in 2012, why on earth would you want to go abroad?" And you want plucky Brits to flock to London and enjoy discounted hotel rooms and all the specially commissioned cultural goodies on offer. Sadly your mission will fail. Here are the reasons why everyone I know who can beg, borrow or steal the price of a plane, ferry or train ticket has already made plans to be as far away as possible from the Olympics.
1. We want a decent night's sleep. During last summer's riots, police helicopters hovered a few hundred feet in the air over my home all night, in spite of the fact there was no unrest within a couple of miles. During the Games, more helicopters will fly with armed troops ready to deal with any terrorist attacks. The security forces will be spending night and day monitoring traffic, using heat-seeking cameras, filming anything, even my roof-top tomatoes growing. There will be a battleship on standby in the Thames. Not exactly a relaxing environment!
2. We like to be able to get to work within two hours. Civil servants are being allowed to work from home for several days this month to "practice" what it will be like during the Games, when most of them will not be able to reach their offices. Whole swaths of London Transport are already being designated Hot Zones to avoid at all costs. These include the City and central London. Commuters are being told to go to work using routes which will take up to an hour extra in each direction. Getting from your hotel to a restaurant, exhibition or show will be problematic unless you can walk. Hardly great for the elderly or the very young. Fancy a holiday in Putney or Perivale? No problem. But I don't think the Cultural Olympiad Committee has anything planned for these accessible locations.
3. We like going on holiday and taking our car so that the kids, granny, pets and luggage fit in. There will be nowhere to park in London. The only cars able to move will belong to celebrities, athletes, sponsors, friends of Seb Coe and David Beckham and the many MPs who will have sucked up to lobby groups to get freebies at the Games in the interest of world trade etc. Designated lanes for VIPs are the driving equivalent of queuing outside a nightclub you are never going to be allowed in. Why should we accept that level of rejection?
4. It's a fabulous party and we haven't got a ticket. No one I know has managed to buy any, although I am sure that the trendy artists (Bob and Roberta Smith, Chris Offili and Howard Hodgkin) who came up with those feeble posters will be invited . Most people, willing to part with their hard-earned cash have got the thumbs down. Better to watch events on our phones, or on a big screen in a bar somewhere abroad where the food and booze isn't subjected to 20 per cent VAT, where children are welcome, where landlords aren't chucking us out at midnight, and where the local youth isn't puking up in the car park.
5. We crave sunshine and only middle-class MP's like you, Mr Hunt, can afford to pretend that the British summer is wonderful. OK, it might be common to like hot weather, but who can blame us? This weekend we're having the winter we hoped we'd avoided. It is -6C at my house in Yorkshire, the central heating has to run on constant, and the oil gauge shows it's costing a fortune. We've had floods and now ice. Poor battered Brits spend hours of their week standing at bus stops, waiting for trains on unheated platforms with no toilets. And you expect us to 'choose Britain' for a holiday this August when the past two years have been wet, windy and miserable? Only government ministers with cars, expenses and a support system can have the bare-faced cheek to suggest that lying comatose on a lounger by a pool or on a beach for two solid weeks in July and August is unpatriotic.
Mr Hunt, I suggest you save yourself that £4m. It's a lost cause,
Geri hoists the flag – yet again
Like her former Spice Girl chum Victoria, Geri Halliwell has chosen fashion as a new career. Qualifications? Buying a lot of clothes, wearing a lot of frocks. Her latest collection for Next uses the Union Jack mini she wore for the 1997 Brits as inspiration. Or does it? The original dress was concocted at the last minute when Geri decided that the plain black Gucci frock her stylists had chosen was too boring" and stitched a Union Jack T-towel over it. Result: an iconic frock she auctioned for cancer charities a year later, raising more than £36,000. For the Spice Girls reunion tour in 2007, Roberto Cavalli recreated the Union Jack dress for Geri, longer, beautifully cut and in sequins. That is the version she's launched for Next! I hope that Mr Cavalli – a brilliantly flamboyant designer unrecognised for many years – is asking for a royalty. By the way, on the original Union Jack night in 1997, I was having a drink with Paul O'Grady in the Groucho Club when we were "summoned" to the Spice Girls Brits after-party upstairs at Quo Vadis, down the street. When we arrived, the party was so exclusive that he and I were the only people in the room apart from the Spice Girls. Geri told us that years earlier she had turned up at Live TV when I was in charge, looking for a job, but I wouldn't even come to reception to see her. She told Paul she admired me because I represented "girl power". To which O'Grady retorted: "No she doesn't, luv. Janet is about Real Power, not some second division version dreamt up by you."
A Turner in canvas shoes
Hamish Fulton has dedicated his life and work to walking all over the world, with powerful results. His latest installation at the Turner Contemporary in Margate complements a spectacular exhibition in the same galleries of Turner's watercolours of the elements. With spare means, from plain text to photography, he records his epic journeys, and the simplicity of his mission is extremely moving. He raises questions about pollution and political oppression, disappearing icecaps and shrinking lakes, changing countryside and green lanes, and the impact of the car. As a walker, this is music to my ears. Just as Turner rendered his obsessions, turbulent weather and landscape, over and over again, Fulton walks every day, leaving no traces and altering nothing on his route. I'm giving a talk in the gallery on 26 April.
Hotel heroism in Torquay
At last, an engrossing programme to liven up Sundays – I can't stomach Miranda Hart in her dowdy Call the Midwife mac. The Hotel, on Channel 4, is a beautifully observed documentary series, starring Mark Jenkins (right), owner and long-suffering manager of The Grosvenor Hotel, Torquay. Mocked mercilessly by his staff, workaholic Mark, whose efforts to set up online booking are a disaster, hosts Hawaiian pool parties, bingo in the bar, and variety nights in the restaurant. The hotel attracts coach parties and repeat bookings; families sleep four or five to a room. Many series demean ordinary people. The Hotel celebrates working-class Brits, and I imagine this series will be a big hit abroad. Mind you, I couldn't face a theme night at The Grosvenor as a guest.